The metronome is a valuable tool for learning and playing music and should be part of every musician’s equipment.
Metronomes are useful for helping to develop good time, If one has “good time” it means they have the ability to create a steady, even tempo, to play “in the pocket” to “groove”. This is arguably the most important skill a musician can possess.
It is a good idea to separate the various parts of music (melody, harmony, rhythm) and practice them to a good level before you combine them. So, working on your rhythmic skills without playing your instrument is highly recommended.
The most important thing to know is you should play with the metronome, not follow it. One way to develop that skill is to clap beats precisely in time with the metronome. If you are accurate (clapping at the same speed as the metronome) the sound of the metronome disappears! This will “tell” you if you’re right on it or not.
This phenomenon doesn’t occur when you are playing a note your instrument unless you play with a percussive sound e.g. drums, or keyboard set to a drum sound, also muted electric guitar and bass will work.
So, part of your daily practice routine should include this simple yet challenging drill; clap beats along with your metronome until you achieve a stable ability to keep time. That is the most fundamental rhythmic skill.
This procedure works best if you practice medium speeds before tackling faster and slower tempos. Make sure your metronome has a clicking sound rather than a beep. If you clap to a beeping or chirping sound, it will be difficult to make the sound disappear. And the absence of the metronome sound is an important indicator of your accuracy.
In addition to being a learning tool, metronomes are useful for determining the correct tempo for a song. The numbers on metronomes, such as 126, represent how many beats per minute. If you set it at 60, the tempo is equal to one beat per second. What do you think 120 would be? You’re right; it is two beats per second.
In the past, before the invention of the metronome, numerous terms were used to describe different tempos: Largo, Andante, Allegro, and Presto are four such examples. You will find these words written on your metronome. They indicate various ranges of speed. For example, Largo is from 40 to 60 BPM (beats per minute). Andante is from 76 to 108 BPM, Allegro is from 120 to 168, Presto is from 168 to 200 BPM.
As you can see, there is quite a large span or wide difference of speed for each term. The old system is workable; it’s just not as precise as the modern system which uses BPM. If the stated tempo of a particular song is 120 BPM, you can set your metronome to 120 and know exactly how fast it should be played.
Additionally, BPM numbers are helpful if you want to figure out how long a song is without having to play the whole song. You can simply add up the total number of beats in the song and then divide that number by the metronome marking (the number of BPM) and you will have the length of time for the song.
Many modern day metronomes are quartz metronomes. Some people don’t understand what quartz means so I will briefly define it. Quartz is a crystalline mineral found in rocks of all types, usually colorless and transparent.
Similar to a fine watch or clock, a quartz metronome’s time keeping mechanism is controlled by a quartz crystal that vibrates at a fixed rate. This tiny crystal has been cut into the shape of a tuning fork (a small, metal object with a thin handle and two prongs that vibrate at a specific rate when struck thus giving a certain pitch which is used as a reference pitch when tuning a piano or other instrument).
The quartz crystal in a metronome is set into motion by the electric current from a battery. This technology provides an extremely accurate pulse. Wind up type metronomes do not keep a steady time.
More than a Click
Some metronomes just give you a click, which is fine. Other more elaborate models will also indicate the first beat of the measure by the use of a different sound. The subdivisions of the beat can also be indicated.
So, you can have three things going simultaneously. You could have the first beat of the measure, which is called a downbeat, all of the main beats of the bar, and the sub-beats.
The Seiko metronome is a really good brand. The Doctor Beat, which is made by Boss, a subsidiary of Roland, also has all the stuff on it. The Frozen Ape Tempo app on the iPhone is an excellent metronome.
Used correctly, metronomes are invaluable. Try it, you’ll be glad you did.